First World Problems: What CNN’s ‘Poop Ship’ Story Missed

Camille Beredjick

All week, CNN has reported extensively on the Carnival Triumph cruise ship, which was stranded in the Gulf of Mexico for days after a debilitating fire in an engine room. The ship lost power, toilets stopped functioning and human waste leaked through hallways and across floors. But now that the ship's 4,000 passengers have made it home safe, albeit smelly, some progressives say CNN and others not only blew the incident out of proportion, but missed an opportunity to report the real scandals of the cruise-ship industry. The conditions for Carnival cruise workers went underreported in the coverage of the ship mishap, says Josh Eidelson at Salon. While passengers could seek refuge above the ship's deck to escape the foul smells, workers likely had no such chance, according to an expert interviewed by Eidelson: “For the workers, it had to be doubly horrible compared to the passengers,” said Ross Klein, the author of “Paradise Lost at Sea: Rethinking Cruise Vacations.” Klein, a sociologist and cruise expert at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, noted that workers are stuck dealing with passengers’ “human mess” as well as their “frayed nerves and the short tempers.” Despite the stench of human waste, some workers may not have had the freedom, or the opportunity, to go above deck. A key question is whether the cruise workers received overtime for the extra work during the five-day stay at sea, Eidelson writes. Cruise-ship salaries are notoriously poor—as little as $2 an hour. In 2010, about 150 workers on the Carnival cruise ship Arcadia were fired after holding a demonstration in protest of low wages and low tips. A CNN article from after the Triumph's arrival says passengers appreciated crew members' hospitality throughout the ordeal—but there is no mention of whether these workers will be additionally compensated: Passengers had nothing but rave reviews for the cruise ship's 1,086 crew members. Many said they bent over backward to meet the needs of passengers and made a good show even during unpleasant jobs such as cleaning up raw waste that had sloshed out of toilets aboard the listing ship.  "What we were in awe of the entire time was the crew that was completely unselfish," said passenger Joy Dyer. "They served us with smiles, and served us in ways that are truly unthinkable, the things they had to do for us, yet they did it with smiles." … Patrick Cuty, a senior marine investigator for the Coast Guard, commended crew members, saying they went to great lengths to meet passenger's needs--including crawling through largely inaccessible areas of the ship in an effort to turn on taps to some rooms so passengers could use toilets or showers. ThinkProgress also points out that coverage of the Triumph missed an opportunity to contextualize the poor sanitary conditions passengers endured in terms of a greater global health crisis around sanitation. Hayes Brown takes particular issue with the news station's preoccupation with the ship's sanitation. While passengers were confronted with spilled sewage for five days, Brown writes, billions around the world lack access to basic sanitation facilities every day: The insane amount of time CNN spent over the last several days capturing footage and breathlessly reporting on the travails of the passengers aboard a disabled cruise ship — over 700 minutes worth — has already been mocked mercilessly. The main focus of the anchors’ concern were the atrocious sanitary conditions that had developed once a fire took out the ship’s engines. At one point described as a “floating petri dish,” the ship was completely unable to process sewage, leading to leaks throughout the halls of the vessel and passengers sleeping above deck to escape the smell. For all of the laughs the seeming absurdity of the coverage has generated, it belies an actual crisis that people live through every day across the globe. As of 2011, 2.6 billion people around the world lacked access to adequate sanitation globally according to the World Health Organization. That leads to defecation in areas where it can flow into water sources, which in turn opens the door to exposure to water-born diseases like diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and hepatitis A.

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Camille Beredjick is a student of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a Spring 2013 ITT intern.
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